How important is M.Ed. degree to be a teacher educator?

June 10, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

The debate which started on Poonam Batra Committee recommendations regarding qualifications for teacher educators had developed into a full-fledged war. One can call it ‘teacher education war’ on the lines of ‘math wars’ and ‘science wars’ that raged in the western academia about 20-30 years back. I think academic wars are good signs for a society. What might have been decided earlier in some cases on the basis of patronage from establishment and academic alignments is being fought openly. That should help in sharper articulation of positions and more rigorous argumentation in public. Academic wars, of course, are fortunately bloodless and can also avoid creating bad-blood if fought with sensitivity and intelligence. I do hope that this war will be fought with such intentions. This article is certainly guided by this sentiment.

The latest move in this war is an internet petition put up by a group that calls itself “Save Teacher Education”, if the name reflects the motto of the group it certainly is loadable. The said petition has two parts in its title. One, “Reconstitute a more representative and non-partisan Committee on Regulations, Norms and Standards of the NCTE”, and two “Make Post Graduate Degree in Education an essential qualification for teaching”. In my usual selective manner, I will leave the first part alone; it seems to me that it does not matter as all committees are likely to have some or other bent of mind that can easily be called partisan. The second part, to my mind is more important; and therefore, I will spend my energies on it.

The question, then, for me is: should we make post-graduate degree in education essential for teaching in our Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs)? Before attempting an answer to this question, like a true Indian, I will review the poorva-paksha; and poorva-paksha in this case is the arguments put forward by the said petition, as this article is occasioned by it.

Actually both the pleas of the petition rest on the argument they build for making M.Ed./MA (Edu) essential for teaching in TEIs. Because the argument for reconstitution of the committee rests on the inadequacy or partisan nature of the committee in specifying the qualifications. And the acceptance or rejection of the qualifications depends on how good is the argument for making M.Ed./MA (Edu) essential.

The main argument the petition builds is as follows:

a. “Education has a small core of theory and a large periphery where one draws from the other disciplines in an eclectic manner.”
b. Masters stage “gives one the exposure to draw, connect and weave in from these inter related and inter dependent areas of knowledge and constitute an organic whole.”
c. Therefore, masters stage is necessary for being able to create an organic whole from the eclectically chosen knowledge from different disciplines.
d. And so, “Doing away with M.Ed./MA (Edu) degree as an essential requirement for TEIs is a dilution in the efforts towards teacher preparation and quality education …”. (Emphasis mine)

One understands that public petitions are not academic papers, and therefore, they state their arguments in a simple and summary manner rather than building them with all the detail and rigour. One of the principles of fairness in philosophical argumentation is that one should critique the strongest interpretation of the opponent’s position. This evening I want to follow this principle in letter and spirit.

The first premise of this argument, as it is stated, is seriously problematic. One, this makes education a collection of eclectically chosen knowledge from different disciplines around a small core of theory of its own. Eclectic means “selecting what seems best of various styles or ideas”, where the principle of selection is rather vaguely defined. If the principle is clearly and strictly defined then it becomes ‘derived’ on the basis of the principle rather than being ‘eclectic’. Two, the contributing disciplines are seen as periphery of education studies. They are not really the core of it, but rather somewhat intuitively selected collection, which may not be essential for education or may be selected differently without creating any serious incoherence. This makes education a very loosely defined field of study. Three, where that “small theory at the core” comes from is not clear; nor is its nature known. That makes the whole of education a very vague area of knowledge.

This characterisation of education studies is a popular one among people coming to education from other supposed to be well-defined disciplines like psychology and sociology. And this encourages them to push education on lines suggested by their own mother disciplines; a sure starting point for turf wars so common in education departments. As it is, it will not give the petitioners’ argument enough force to make M.Ed./MA (Edu) compulsory as that “small core of theory” can very well be acquired by anyone who has an academically disciplined mind capable of dealing with conceptual issues. Such a mind is supposed to be cultivated in master’s programmes in all disciplines; and definitely at the research level. So master’s degree in education may not be necessary. But I assume that the articulation here is simply a way of expressing something much stronger and more solid characterisation of education. Therefore, this is a minor point, and is made here only to replace this characterisation with a stronger one; and not as a critique of the whole argument.

One can easily replace this characterisation of education with, say, “education studies is a field of study unified by its central concerns immerging from intentional teaching and learning, with a well-defined domain that includes all issues arising out of this endeavour, from its impact on the individual and the society, and from its organisational arrangements”. At the heart of this endeavour is flourishing of the entire society and wellbeing of the individual learner. Education in this sense, when perused gives rise to a whole lot of fundamental questions about life, humans and society. These are its foundational questions. Insights gained from various disciplines become necessary conceptual apparatus to address those questions. The knowledge that is essential for addressing these questions becomes foundational; but the guiding principles emerge from the central concerns of education and not from the contributing disciplines. Also, no single contributing discipline is capable of shaping those principles as they necessarily admit different perspectives and are essentially contested. For example in deciding aims of education philosophical, sociological and historical perspectives necessarily interact; no single perspective is capable of providing sufficient grounds for decision. Therefore, education studies strives for an intellectually coherent and comprehensive understanding of education; and this understanding necessarily used insights from other disciples.

The main claim being made in the petition, then, is that such an intellectually coherent and comprehensive (organic whole, in the petition’s language) picture of education emerges only at the study of education at the master’s level. Therefore, a teacher without M.Ed./MA (Edu) is unlikely to have such an intellectually coherent and comprehensive picture of education. And a teacher who himself lacks such an understanding cannot give rise to that understanding in the student-teacher’s mind. Therefore, education will remain fragmented in the minds of the faculty and the student-teachers if the faculty has not studies education at MA/M.Ed. level. A teacher with fragmented understanding cannot provide good quality education to the children at school level.

Now, I accept that the following points could be successfully argued (though I am not working out the arguments here):

1. To be able to provide quality education a teacher requires intellectually coherent and comprehensive understanding of education. Otherwise, s/he is unlikely to be an efficient reflective practitioner.
2. Unless teacher educators themselves possess such intellectually coherent and comprehensive understanding most of the student-teachers will not develop such understanding.
3. One needs to study education for such an understanding; it does not emerge automatically and study of other disciplines to master’s level is not geared to develop such understanding of education.

But acceptance of the points 1 to 3 above does not necessarily lead to the requirement of MA (Edu)/M.Ed. for every faculty member of a TEI for a variety of reasons.

One, it is fairly possible to develop required understanding of education at the undergraduate level; that is, a good quality B.Ed. or B.El.Ed. should be able to develop such required understanding of education. I believe that even a good quality D.El.Ed. can succeed in forming an intellectually coherent and comprehensive framework of education in student-teachers’ mind. There is no reason to claim that it can happen only at the master’s level. But that simply shifts the focus from M.Ed./MA (Edu) to B.Ed./BA (Edu). The main argument remains the same.

The second reason for not accepting the necessity of M.Ed./MA (Edu) lies in the nature of education, teaching and institutionalised learning opportunities. The petition seem to see each teacher educator as a complete Guru in himself/herself. It seems to assume that each one will teach in isolation and completely oblivious of others. The nature of education is such that the overall capabilities of any student are a result of collective efforts of the faculty. However good or well (and appropriately) educated the individual faculty members might be, if the institutional collaboration, dialogue and awareness of what else (other than a single teacher’s subject) the students are learning are lacking, the institution will fail to develop adequate understanding of education in its students. Therefore, collaboration, dialogue, awareness of the total curricular learning is essential in any case; whether one makes M.Ed. and MA (Edu) essential or not. Without such an institutional ambiance teacher-education will necessarily fail even if each individual teacher educator is a great scholar of education.

Therefore, we should think of faculty qualification keeping the whole institution and its working culture in mind. Now suppose that there are 15 teacher in a TEI. Further suppose that each one has some experience of education either as B.Ed./B.El.Ed. or M.Ed./MA (Edu) or research/Ph.D. level. Further suppose that half of them actually have M.Ed./MA (Edu) and everyone has adequate knowledge of his/her own subject (for example MA in philosophy, etc.). If this institution has the work culture of collaboration, dialogue and each member has a fairly good idea of the whole curriculum, then the student-teacher should be able to develop the adequate and comprehensive understanding of education we have been describing above, even if some of his/her teachers are not M.Ed./MA (Edu) and even if some of them themselves do not have that comprehensive understanding. This will happen because of the atmosphere created by faculty’s awareness of other subjects and mutual dialogue and collaboration when needed. In addition, it seems to me that a faculty who teaches, say psychology, has an MA in psychology, knows about the whole curriculum and interacts and collaborates with his colleagues will develop an overall understanding of education within 2 to 3 years. (Sorry, I have no systematic empirical study to back this claim, but my experience in institutions has convinced me of this.)

If this understanding has some merit, then, though it is desirable that each faculty has an M.Ed./MA (Edu), still it is not necessary, and the institution can function well, and achieve its aims, even with some of the faculty without MA (Edu)/M.Ed. That is, if it is a properly functioning institution.

However, there may be certain courses like curriculum study which should be preferably taught by faculty who have MA (Edu)/M.Ed. of have adequate preparation, as such courses are integrative and can be better handled by someone who has studies education.

Another important issue that emerges here is the responsibility of institutions to prepare their own faculty to have a clear idea of its programmes and what is needed to achieve their goals. When we imagine institutions, we sadly leave out their responsibility to prepare their faculty and to provide opportunities of growth of faculty.

Now, if we look at Poonam Batra Committee recommendations in this light we can immediately see that most of the specified qualifications are fair enough. The curricular requirements are taken care at the institutional level and there is a strong possibility that about 50% faculty will have studied education at the master’s level. As a safeguard, may be the committee can recommend that a certain percentage, just for example say 50%, of faculty must have studied education either at the bachelor’s or at the master’s level.

Having said that, one must note that there are some lapses in the recommendations here and there, and they must be corrected. For example, a bias towards elementary education, and consequently for B.El.Ed. There is no reason to assume that this bias is a result of being partisan to B.El.Ed.; it seems it is a result of an academic stance where elementary education is seen as the most important. Another example is absence of history and philosophy faculty in B.Ed. No mention of MA in philosophy is made while other humanity and social science post-graduates are allowed to teach foundational courses. There are several such lapses and the tables need to be very carefully checked and revised if need be.

The petition also points out one problem in B.Ed. curriculum; that is of not having philosophy of education in the foundations. Actually, the report is the weakest where it suggests curriculum. The suggested curriculum is seriously flowed and can hardly be defended; but I will not go into details of it here as I have argued that elsewhere; and as actually it requires a separate complete paper.

If this analysis is acceptable then the petitioners’ claim of making M.Ed./MA (Edu) essential cannot be accepted. The concern of the petitioners may be genuine, but it is misguided and without proper analysis of overall institutional functioning and requirements.

The kind of overall qualifications that are recommended by the committee are likely to bring in some fresh thought and critique in teacher education; and that is very much needed at present. Therefore, if the petitioners are genuinely interested in betterment of teacher education they should not insist upon making MA (Edu)/M.Ed. necessary. They should rather be arguing for more openness in teacher education.